09 November 2009

Trilogy Pack: The Evil Dead


This summer, as I was waiting for
Drag Me to Hell to start, I sat ready to watch a horror flick by the guy who I know as “the director of the Spider-Man trilogy”; others folks, however, were watching “from horror director Sam Raimi, director of the Evil Dead trilogy”, eagerly anticipating Raimi’s return to the horror genre after his superhero detour. Up until recently (like, tonight recently), I never watched any of the Evil Dead movies. Of course, I knew plenty about Ash and his chainsaw-wielding arm, and I heard that the Evil Dead sequel was more or less a bigger budgeted remake of the first, and that the third film was set in the past. As to why the franchise was so revered and loved by countless fans that will defend Raimi no matter what because of these movies, I hadn’t a clue.

Now, a hour or so after watching the trilogy back-to-back at my local second-run theater ($8 for all three movies, not counting concession purchases), I appreciate Raimi’s trilogy, and I get why so many people dig the franchise, but as to fallen in love with it – nah, not yet; perhaps a few more viewings of the second or third, and I just might fall in love (the sorta funny thing is that I’ve owned the first two on DVD for three years, and haven’t watched ‘em). But I get one thing for sure: Bruce Campbell’s status of Awesomeness.

It was a frakkin’ awesome experience being in a packed theater with a bunch of equally-minded nerds and horror hounds watching the trilogy (as opposed to the nearly desolate reception the recent 1978 Halloween screening had at the Mall of America), and the Plaza Maplewood was even awesome enough to throw in a couple oldies trailers: the only ones I can remember at the moment were Krull, the teaser for Alien, Night of the Living Dead, and Army of Darkness. That made me super giddy. The last time a theater showed vintage trailers was four years ago, when my local Marcus location showed the previous five Star Wars trailers preceding Revenge of the Sith.

As most would-be interested parties have probably seen the Evil Dead trilogy, I’m not going to go in-depth, deep-in-specifics, but just give an overview of my general thoughts concerning the flicks.

Bruce Campbell
w. & d. Sam Raimi, 1981

The first, the beginning, the Big Kahuna, Bruce Campbell’s big starring vehicle, Raimi’s first horror flickaroo – and we’re presented this with a washed out, red-tinted, hair-and-crackling 35milimeter print that was just painful to watch, and listen to. Obviously not the most ideal way to see the first of a ‘cinema classic’ trilogy, but the audience reactions to the screen more than made up for it [besides, it was fun watching the missing frames create quick edits; for example, a dude sitting on the ground gets up faster than Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan getting out of Dodge in Episode I, and I’m sure only a few people will get that reference).

Well, first and foremost, I can say this wasn’t what I expected. I guess all the hype surrounding Army of Darkness made me think this was more akin to that, but it isn’t so much. It’s dark, very independent looking, not so greatly scripted, not all that greatly acted (though I wager that’s part of the gem of the flick), and it’s really, really messed up. By messed up, I mean particularly the finale, that featured some pretty dodgy but inspired stop-motion claymation, and was quite grotesque. For some reason, this stuff irked me more than any of the Saw flicks.

For an independent feature, it's still quite impressive. There's a little bit of lag time where nothing really happens, and the suspense sadly isn't all there, but once shit hits the fan (aka the last twenty minutes), you just forget about all the not-so-stellar stuff. Oh, and one final thing: holy frakkin' crap, look at how YOUNG Bruce Campbell is! I'm used to watching this dude as the clumsy Autolycus, the King of Thieves in Xena and Hercules, and to me, THAT was a young Bruce. At any rate, Evil Dead was still a cool movie, but in comparison to the other two, it definitely ranks the lower slot.

Bruce Campbell
d. Sam Raimi, 1987

Raimi and Campbell must be nuts, because Evil Dead 2 is just INSANE. Just when something got weird (Ash slicing off his hand, and it subsequently taunting him), it got even more freakin’ weirder (the entire house talking, laughing, and eventually Ash crackin’ up about it). And the sequence near the beginning when the naked headless female body gets up from the grave, dances around, makes sexual positions, and then has the head roll back on? That was one of the most messed up things I have ever seen, and if anyone was stoned watching the flick in the theater, I'm sure that probably blew their mind. As I said above, the sequel gets a lot of “grr” for being basically a remake of the first movie, but I was rather surprised at how little it felt like it; yes, it basically is the first movie all over again, but there’s so many things that separate the two that it feels distinct.

The character of Ash becomes more of a parody than anything else, being thrown into anything and everything imaginable, beat the hell up, and completely loses his bonkers. Actually, he’s like Jack Bauer thrown into a horror situation, but minus the intense seriousness and gun. The first film concluded with Ash once again the target of the thought-to-be-destroyed resurrected demons, and no matter his attempts, he’s always dragged back to that bloody house. This film follows that with Ash unable to get away from the house, and his problem gets more complicated with the arrival of four more people, one of them the daughter of the Professor who started this whole mess (who looked like the Gay Harden woman from Frank Darabont's The Mist, but I was wrong). Together, they battle resurrected old dead ladies (her reveal was a hilarious scene with Ash locked in the cellar), fight the woods, and Ash gets the bad end of the stick once again when he's sucked into a portal that brings him back into the time of Arthur.

Y'know, I feel really bad for Ash. This guy goes through Hell (not to mention what happens in the next movie; which, by the way, had awesome foreshadowing earlier in the story, complete with an hilarious one-liner on Campbell's part), with basically every part of his body getting sliced into, ripped up, jabbed, thrown into a wall, etc., etc. And yet he's basically indestructible. No wonder there's Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic series - I gotta remember to pick that up. The franchise might not be half as fun if it wasn't for the audience wondering what new catastrophe's going to happen to him.

Impressive cinematography (the one-shot in which the Evil follows Ash through the houses' many rooms and doors is very cool), funny dialog, great kill-off characters (way better than anything the Friday the 13th franchise has yet to produce), and an helluva awesome ending. Pretty damn good, sirs, pretty damn good.

Bruce Campbell
d. Sam Raimi, 1993

Out of the three, Army of Darkness probably receives the most attention, and I get why. Epic, funny, fun, cool, action-y, imaginative, and attractive girls; what’s not to like? Plus, it boasts one helluva awesome looking poster. Once again, Raimi retools the ending of the previous film into something similar but simultaneously different, and that sort of caught me off guard. Evil Dead 2 concluded with such a strong finale with of kick-assness, it felt a little weird to sort of wipe the slate clean. Anywhoozles, Ash (Campbell) has been transported back in time via this portal that was meant to exile all the Evil in the forest – which it did, but just brought it to a different time. So Ash is captured by Arthur and some other Knights, thought to be a bad guy conspiring with Arthur’s opponent Henry, but some believe Ash to be the prophesied one that will bring peace to the land. Ash doesn’t so much care about the peace-bringing bit as much as the whole going-home part, which is possible but only by ownership of a Necronomicon book. So Ash stays (plus the presence of a rather attractive woman I'm sure plays a part in that), and basically he inadvertently (in a rather funny scene that shows the importance of correct pronunciation) jump starts the Apocalypse, which leads to another awesome full-out war.

The best way to compare this would be Hot Fuzz meets First Knight. The humor and action of Fuzz mixed in with the ancient Arthurian tales of Knight come together to make one helluva awesome movie with a brilliant concept: demons in midevil times, and a 20th century man with a chainsaw hands comes to kick some demon ass! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!

As with any mythical movie, there's gotta be a battle scene, and Army doesn't disappoint. Boasting one really awesome Bad Guy, Ash kicks some serious ass, beats the hell out of some bad guys, and (of course) gets the girl.

The film’s final minutes were a blast (keep in mind, this was the theatrical release, not the director’s cut). First off, it was GREAT seeing Ted Raimi onscreen; as a loyal fan of
Xena, Warrior Princess (don’t laugh, it was a damn good program), it was marvelous watching Joxer the Mighty grace me with his presence once again. And Ash getting his shotgun, putting bullet into bullet into the demon, freakin’ SWEET! Total Awesome Fest if ever I’d experienced it.

And then the movie was over, the audience got outta their seats and headed home, and the Plaza mentioned something about “join us next year for this again.” So, here’s hoping they do the Trilogy again, and here’s hoping I have time off work to attend.

All in all, I didn’t fall in love with the franchise, but I enjoyed my time. The Evil Dead movies are completely nutty, freakin’ hilarious, highly imaginative, wonderfully casted, and – as the best compliment possible – one hell of a enjoyable time in the theater. Kick-ass job Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Ivan Raimi, and everyone else involved in the production of these flicks. So, fellow movie lovers who, like I recently, haven’t seen the Evil Dead movies, would I recommend them? If you dig horror movies and corny, cheese ball fun, absolutely.

No comments: